The prices of AKs aren’t as low as they used to be. The fact that entry-level ARs are cheaper than their Combloc cousins is simply something the gun community now has to deal with. While the cost of a basic AK has gone up, there may very well be more Kalashnikov-pattern firearms on the market today than ever before. But which ones are actually worth buying?

I’ve had the opportunity to own, shoot, or otherwise review all of the firearms listed below (or a representative example from a specific line of guns—I don’t own a Vepr in every single caliber they’re offered in). I consider each of them to be an excellent pick for anyone seeking a well-made AK. They’re presented in an approximately least-to-most expensive order.

1. Serbian N-PAP

N-PAP rifles are made at the Zastava Arms factory in Serbia and imported and modified by Century Arms International. Along with Romanian-made WASRs, they occupy the lowest rung on the AK price-point totem pole. The models with non-folding wooden stocks can be found online for about $600, while the less common N-PAP DF underfolder usually commands at least $700.

The author's Serbian-made N-PAP DF rifle. The base rifle was purchased for less than $600.
The author’s Serbian-made N-PAP DF rifle. The base rifle was purchased for less than $600. It’s equipped with an Echo93 underfolder cheek rest, an UltiMAK gas tube rail, and a Primary Arms red dot.

The 7.62x39mm N-PAPs are effectively AKM clones with a few Balkan twists. Most notably, they use proprietary furniture and do not feature chrome-lined barrels. The latter shouldn’t be a problem as long as you practice good cleaning habits and the aftermarket is overflowing with “Yugo-pattern” accessories to address the former.

An N-PAP with a non-folding stock. This rifle is equipped with a Hi-Lux 1-4x CMR scope in an RS Regulate mount.
An N-PAP with a non-folding stock. This rifle is equipped with a Hi-Lux 1-4x CMR scope in an RS Regulate mount.

I’ve owned an N-PAP DF for over a year. Though the underfolder stock takes some getting used to, it’s one of my most fun range blasters. I’ve put 2,000 rounds through it without any problems, and it still pops milk jugs at 100 yards today as well as the first day I got it. It doesn’t have the most beautiful finish, but it works.

2. Romanian WASR

A shooter from Michigan AKM Owners taking aim with his WASR rifle. He's customized his gun with an aftermarket flash hider and optic mount.
A shooter from Michigan AKM Owners taking aim with his WASR rifle at a class put on by AK Operators Union. He’s customized his gun with an aftermarket flash hider and optic mount.

For many years, the Romanian WASR-10 was the go-to “cheap AK.” Now that they typically cost $550 to $600, today’s shooters tend to weigh their options a bit longer before taking the plunge on the old standby (though that might not be a great idea, considering that due to a military contract, “export” WASRs may not be made for quite some time according to AK Operators Union).

Another shooter from Michigan AKM Owners with a customized WASR. If you opt to save some money on buying a gun proper, you may have funds left over to customize your firearm more to your liking.
Another shooter from Michigan AKM Owners with a customized WASR. If you opt to save some money on buying a gun proper, you may have funds left over to customize your firearm more to your liking. This shooter chose to add a Manticore Arms handguard and a JP Enterprises Recoil Eliminator to his gun.

The WASR-10 is another 7.62x39mm AKM clone. Though it lacks the receiver dimples of true AKM clones, it uses “standard” AKM-pattern furniture and accessories. Just like N-PAPs, WASRs are imported and modified by Century Arms. And just like N-PAPs, WASRs don’t always have the best fit and finish. In contrast with N-PAPs, they have chrome-lined barrels—which some shooters see as a must-have. Even though they’re not as cheap as they used to be, WASRs are still solid picks in today’s AK market.

3. Russian Saiga (and conversions)

This rifle belonging to Rob Ski of the AK Operators Union began its life as a Saiga. It has since been heavily customized by Definitive Arms and outfitted with high-quality accessories by Rob.
This rifle belonging to Rob Ski of the AK Operators Union began its life as a Saiga. It has since been heavily customized by Definitive Arms and outfitted with high-quality accessories by Rob.

Though most Russian firearms can no longer be imported to the United States as a result of the Obama administration’s sanctions, there are still ample numbers of Saiga rifles and conversions available on the market. They can most often be found in one of two configurations: as a “sporter” rifle or in “converted” form.

Sporters look like old-fashioned, semiautomatic hunting rifles with Monte Carlo stocks and long handguards. While guns in this configuration are drying up, they can still be found online for around $650 to $750. If you want a great starting point for your own conversion, sporter Saigas are the way to go. Know that some modification is required to make Saigas compatible with standard-capacity AK magazines and conventional AK furniture.

Converted guns look much more like the AK we’ve come to know and love. Generally speaking they accept standard-capacity AK mags, conventional furniture, and feature threaded muzzles (the “scary” features that make uninformed people want to ban them). Depending on the quality of the conversion, expect to pay at least $800. Professionally converted Saigas sell for well above $1,000.

The author's SGL31-47 rifle in 5.45x39mm. This gun also began its life as a Saiga sporter.
The author’s SGL31-47 rifle in 5.45x39mm. This gun also began its life as a Saiga sporter.

Regardless of which caliber Saiga you might purchase (they’re available in 5.45x39mm, 5.56x45mm, 7.62x39mm, and .308 Winchester), you’ll get a gun that was made on the same machines that have been building them for decades. All Saigas are made at the Izhmash (now Kalashnikov Concern) factory in Izhevsk, Russia, and feature well-made Russian chrome-lined barrels. For many shooters, the appeal of owning a real Russian-made AK is quite strong.

I’ve owned a 5.45x39mm Saiga that was converted by Arsenal, Inc. in Nevada to resemble an AK-74M for nearly five years. Over the course of those 1,800 or so days and 5,000-plus rounds, I’ve never had a single malfunction that wasn’t ammo-related. Saigas and their derivatives can be expensive these days, but they’re worth their price tags.

4. Russian Vepr

A Vepr rifle in 6.5 Grendel.
A Vepr rifle in 6.5 Grendel.

To use a crappy car analogy, Veprs are like the Cadillacs of the AK world. They’re made at the Molot factory in Vyatskie Polyany, Russia on the same tooling that build the heavy-duty light machinegun versions of the AK (the RPK). Veprs feature reinforced receivers and Russian chrome-lined barrels. They’re considered more accurate and more reliable than standard AKs—which says a lot.

The author's custom Vepr in 7.62x54mmR. This gun has been extensively modified by Krebs Custom and Definitive Arms.
The author’s custom Vepr in 7.62x54mmR. This gun has been extensively modified by Krebs Custom and Definitive Arms.

Veprs are available in a wide variety of calibers, including 5.56x45mm, 5.45x39mm, 7.62x39mm, .308 Winchester, and 7.62x54mmR. Most recently they began being offered in 6.5 Grendel, a very unique and fun cartridge. They are most frequently sold in a sporter configuration similar to Saigas and take a bit more work to convert. Veprs can be found for anywhere from $800 to over $1,000, depending on the specific configuration.

Definitive Arms' prototype 6.5 Grendel Vepr.
Definitive Arms’ prototype 6.5 Grendel Vepr.

I currently own two Veprs, and they’re some of my favorite guns. These premium Russian rifles are becoming more and more popular for customization—I recently had my hands on a 6.5 Grendel rifle that was reworked by Definitive Arms (including an AR-pattern magazine well) and it was incredibly cool.

5. Arsenal, Inc. Bulgarian SLR

The author's SLR-104 FR rifle with custom-dyed furniture. This excellent 5.45x39mm rifle was purchased for around $1,000.
The author’s SLR-104 FR rifle with custom-dyed furniture by Echo93. This excellent 5.45x39mm rifle was purchased for around $1,000.

Arsenal, Inc. is the official US importer and remanufacturer of firearms made at the famous “Circle 10” factory in Bulgaria (known as Arsenal Bulgaria). Arsenal Bulgaria makes some of the finest production AKs in the world, Arsenal, Inc. professionally converts them into American-compliant guns once they make it across the ocean.

Arsenal, Inc.’s SLR line of 5.45x39mm, 5.56x45mm, and 7.62x39mm firearms is extremely popular among US shooters. They’re reliable and well-made semiautomatic replicas of their select-fire siblings. SLRs feature stamped receivers and Bulgarian-made chrome-lined barrels and accept almost all standard AKM-pattern furniture and accessories.

The author shooting his SLR-104FR. The scope is a Hi-Lux 1-4x in an RS Regulate mount. Image by Edward Pierz.
The author shooting his SLR-104FR. The scope is a Hi-Lux 1-4x in an RS Regulate mount. Image by Edward Pierz.

I’ve shot and owned SLR-pattern rifles for several years and they rate highly in my book. They can’t be found new for less than $950 these days (and certain variants are well above $1,100), but they are very high-quality arms.

6. Definitive Arms DAKM

A Definitive Arms DAKM. Image from Atlantic Firearms.
A Definitive Arms DAKM. Image from Atlantic Firearms.

St. Petersburg, Florida-based Definitive Arms is one of the nation’s top AK shops. Their custom work is present in several of the guns featured in this article. They also regularly offer production guns, most often through retailers like Atlantic Firearms and Copper Custom.

During a recent trip to their facility, I was able to see firsthand the incredible amount of time and care that goes into building every one of their guns. Each firearm they put out is built, tweaked, and tinkered with until it’s practically perfect. Their extensive sight-leveling process is particularly impressive.

The select-fire DAKM from Big 3 East. Definitive Arms won't send you one with a distressed finish unless you ask very nicely.
The select-fire DAKM from Big 3 East. Definitive Arms won’t send you one with a distressed finish like this unless you ask very nicely.

Any firearm touched by Definitive Arms is a winner and worth far more than it sells for, but their current line of 7.62x39mm DAKM rifles stands out. They are built using the best Polish AKM parts kits around and combined with new-production American receivers and barrels. The barrels are made from 4150 CMV steel, and should perform as well as chrome-lined barrels.

DAKMs are periodically available through Atlantic Firearms, where they often sell out within hours of being listed. Their roughly $1,000 price tag might seem high, but it’s an incredibly fair price for what is effectively a premium, hand-tuned AK.

Definitive Arms brought a select-fire DAKM to Big 3 East earlier this month. Aside from the happy switch, muzzle device, and the distressed finish, the gun was exactly the same as a standard DAKM. Apart from a single ammo-related failure (a Tito-era Yugoslavian round that refused to fire), the gun ran nonstop in full auto for three days, spitting thousands of rounds downrange.

Those are my top picks for AKs on the market today. What do you think? Tell me what I left out in the comments below.

Images by Matt Korovesis unless otherwise noted

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  • CaptnKC

    I purchased my Saiga 7.62 X 39 online from a now-closed gun dealer. The gun came with the standard Hunting stock to meet the import regulations at that time. I made two conversions since then. The first conversion included bead-blasting and painting the riffle and changing the furniture. I added a Magpul collapsible stock and a MIdwest Industries Forend. I also added an AK-74 style Muzzle Brake and added components like changing the Trigger Group to met the 922r compliance.

    The second conversion was reblasting the rifle and refinish it with a Perma Blue by Birchwood Casey, and adding a Double Rail Side Mount and a Leupold Mark 4 MRT 1.5-5x20mm M2 Rifle Scope with a QD mount. My next conversion will be to repaint the rifle with KG Gun Kote

    One AK-47 tat di not make your review is the new Kalashnikov USA AK-47 (.http://www.guns.com/2015/08/10/kalashnikov-usa-prices-out-first-wave-of-american-aks/). Their rifle is similar to the Saiga I previously purchased, but they offer several models of a finished rifle. I understand the rifle is being manufactured in Pennsylvania with the full approval of the Russian AK-47 manufacturer.

    One of the comments questioned why a U.S. manufactured AK-47 had to meet 922r compliance. Kalashnikov USA was previously an importer until Obama put an importation ban on Concern Kalashnikov AK-47’s in 2014. Kalashnikov USA then made the decision to transition from an importer to a manufacturer. (http://www.kalashnikov-usa.com/about). Similar actions may have taken by Russian ammunition manufacturers like Tula and Wolf Ammo.

    I keep seeing Tula Ammo at Academy and Wal-Mart. A good alternative is the Perfect Ammo. This ammo is made in Italy but distributed by Tulammo USA. It comes in 50 round boxes for around $18-$19 a box. It’s brass cased, non corrosive and reloadable. For the ease of availability and low cost this ammo is a great choice.

  • CaptnKC

    I purchased my Saiga 7.62 X 39 online from a now-closed gun dealer. The gun came with the standard Hunting stock to meet the import regulations at that time. I made two conversions since then.

    The first conversion included bead-blasting and painting the riffle and changing the furniture. I added a Magpul collapsible stock and a MIdwest Industries Forend. I also added an AK-74 style Muzzle Brake and added components like changing the Trigger Group to met the 922r compliance.

    The second conversion was reblasting the rifle and refinish it with a Perma Blue, and adding a Double Rail Side Mount and a Leupold Mark 4 MRT 1.5-5x20mm M2 Rifle Scope with a QD mount. My next conversion will be to repaint the rifle with KG Guncote

    One AK-47 that did not make your review is the new Kalashnikov USA AK-47 (.http://www.guns.com/2015/08/10/kalashnikov-usa-prices-out-first-wave-of-american-aks/). Their rifle is similar to the Saiga I previously purchased, but they offer several models of a finished rifle.

    I understand the rifle is being manufactured in Pennsylvania with the full approval of the Russian AK-47 manufacturer. Prices range from the low $700 to $999.00. That pricing is very attractive based on my initial investment and related conversion costs, and it is a real AK-47.

    One of the comment questioned why a U.S. manufactured AK-47 was 922r compliant. RAC was the original importer from Concern Kalashnikov in Russia until the Obama ban in July 0f 2014. RAC worked with Concern Kalashnikov, and is now manufacturing a U.S. AK-47 under license from Concern Kalashnikov, and this will eliminate the need for 9022r compliance. Additional detail is available at: http://www.kalashnikov-usa.com/about.

    Russian ammo manufacturers like Tula and Wolf faced similar bans. I still see Tula Ammo at Academy and Wal-Mart. One alternate ammo is Perfecta. The ammo is made in Italy and is 115 grain FMJ, Brass Cased, Non- Corrosive Boxer Primer. The ammo is distributed by TulAmmo.

    Shoot Straight and Shoot Often!

  • Mark Hood

    What do you think about the Waffen Werks AK-74. Bulgarin Woodstock & along the barrel.

    • Hi Mark,

      I don’t have any personal experience with Waffen Werks guns. I know that the early-production guns were very highly regarded, but QC slipped at some point and they started sucking.

      Thanks for reading!

      Matt Korovesis

  • Noel P.

    I have a Saiga in 5.56×45 with an AR type three position stock and it is dependable. Once I got enough magazines that fit it I enjoyed it almost as much as I did my various CZ 58s. I find it not being all that accurate over three hundred meters but near excellent up to that point. For what I paid for it has been a positive+ surprise. I would not put it in the league with a few ARs but then it cost even at todays prices about half as much.

    • Hi Noel,

      I really like the 5.56 Saigas. They’re about as close as you can get to an AK-101 in the US. If you’re ever interested in custom work, Definitive Arms does excellent AR magwell conversions on 5.56 Saigas that absolutely rock.

      Thanks for reading!

      Matt Korovesis

      • Noel P.

        Thanks Matt ! This was an excellent article written well enough that both amateur and near professional could enjoy and certainly leads me in the direction that I want to go.

  • Horace

    What are your thoughts on the c39v2 in relation to the AKs listed?

    • Hi Horace,

      I don’t think I’ve had enough time with C39V2s to give a fair perspective on them, unfortunately. From what I’ve read, I think they might be the most promising American-made AK out of all of them, but they might still have a ways to go.

      Thank you for reading.

      Matt Korovesis

  • Jim

    How could you leave out Norinco and Polytech???
    They are widely known to be one of, if not the, best AK you can get your hands on. Jim Fuller thinks so as well, and that should tell you something.

  • Gregory Bryan Doran

    I want them all for the next revolution…

    • Seth Burgin

      You and me both! Be aware I shaved the beard, and please don’t shoot me. It will be back by winter. I’ll still be maroon wearing my tie with the gold frogs on it.

  • disqus_0jln85eNvY

    Thanks for a great article! I had one question for you: your custom vepr in 54mmR…could you provide some more details as to how/what was customized? It’s the green one I’m asking about. Thanks in advance!

  • Seth Burgin

    The Galil is a very nice nod & doff of the cap to the AK, and so is the Daewoo K2, which took the best part of the AK, and melded it to the best of the AR and the SKS. ARs were made in huge numbers but still pale in comparison to the Mauser 98 for being influential, and the sheer mass numbers made. The AK is the 20th century’s Mauser. What other gun can I stash behind a locker, until the bolt is so frozen I need a 2×4 and a mallet to knock it free, then after that first round knocks everything inside loose, it runs like a raped ape? The AK is the ONLY small arm that comes to mind. Vepr has always been the maker of premium AKs, but companies like FEG, Zastava, and any East Block country made fairly respectable versions. I am still not a huge fan of the Chinese stuff. It’s not so much that they can’t make quality, as it is they choose not to, because it’s easier and or cheaper. Their early steel was junk, so that factors in too. I’d love a Woo two with select fire. Someday, maybe someday, I can get a manufacturing license and strike a deal with the police to make some full auto stuff as “sample guns”.